Growing pains in the biology department

Burgeoning biology department does a lot with a little, but calls on the university for support and space

Mark Hendricks, Science & Tech Editor Ω

Tamara Bandet is one of six undergraduate students in Canada to win the CSM undergraduate award for 2013. Photo courtesy Thompson Rivers University

Tamara Bandet is one of six undergraduate students in Canada to win the CSM undergraduate award for 2013. Photo courtesy Thompson Rivers University

TRU’s biology department has been punching above its weight, competing successfully for awards against larger universities like McGill and Carleton. But as space becomes tight, faculty are wondering if they’re getting the support they need from the university.

For the past two years, TRU students have been among several (three last year and six this year) who received undergraduate awards from the Canadian Society of Microbiologists (CSM). TRU professor Jonathan Van Hamme was a member of the executive committee for the CSM at the time the undergraduate award was created.

“The CSM has historically been more for professors and graduate students, but they’ve been making moves to try and get undergraduate students interested in microbiology at a younger age,” said Van Hamme.

Students for the CSM undergraduate awards are nominated by their professors. One of Van Hamme’s students won the award last year. This year’s winner was Tamara Bandet, a student of Naowarat Cheeptham, a TRU professor in the department of biological sciences.

“Tamara is a dream student,” Cheeptham said.

Both Van Hamme and Cheeptham believe that the hands-on experience that students get at TRU and the one-on-one interactions between faculty and students are the things that allow TRU to compete with much larger universities for these awards.

The CSM is a well-known organisation in the scientific community in Canada, and Van Hamme believes that awards of this kind will definitely help TRU students get jobs upon graduation.

“If you’re a microbiologist in Canada you’re going to know what the CSM is,” Van Hamme said. “We advertised a lot when we established the undergraduate award, so I think it’s fairly well known.”

Cheeptham believes this type of award will help gain TRU more attention on a national level.

“This kind of experience or recognition from national organizations boosts TRU and puts our students and our programs on the map,” said Cheeptham.

Despite the success that TRU is experiencing with the CSM undergraduate awards both Cheeptham and Van Hamme feel that the science department is still undergoing growing pains from the transition from university-college to university now that research is a part of the mandate.

“We need more help from admin,” Cheeptham said, “they need to support our research as well, not just the monetary funding side, but physical space as well. My personal research area is very small.”

“It’s been decent but I think if we want to grow a bigger graduate program we’re going to need more space, maybe another building if we want to get really serious about it,” Van Hamme said.